In Partnership with 74

Pique with Kayser’s no response drew Thomas into District 5 race

Vanessa Romo | February 9, 2015

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Andrew Thomas

Andrew Thomas

This is the next in a series of profiles on candidates running in the March 3 primary for the LA Unified school board. Today’s focus is Andrew Thomas, a candidate for the District 5 seat.

When Andrew Thomas’s two children started at John Marshall High School in Los Feliz, the 49-year-old dad was disappointed in the level of parent-teacher cooperation on campus.

“There were a number of issues that we felt really needed to be addressed,” he told LA School Report.

What exactly? “Teacher quality, safety, and drug use on campus,” he replied.

But when parents attempted to initiate a stronger partnership with the schools administrators, they were met with resistance.

That lead Thomas to turn to his board member, Bennett Kayser, who, he says “didn’t return phone calls or emails or show up to meetings.” And when the district changed the rules for funding schools with low-income students, making it harder for places like Marshall, which enrolls students from a diverse socio-economic background to get federal dollars, Thomas said, “That was an issue that Kayser did not get out in front of.”

Those and other slights are what Thomas says convinced him to challenge Kayser in the March 3 election for Board District 5, the odd-shaped district spanning from Eagle Rock in the north to Bell in the south. The race also includes Ref Rodriguez, a charter school executive, whose support from the California Charter Schools Association in a controversial flyer has roiled the race.

“A school board member needs to convey the sense that he’s on the side of parents and schools, rather than imposing something on them,” said Thomas, who won the endorsement of the LA Times .

Parent engagement is a fundamental part of Thomas’s platform. He is currently serving as the ESC-East at-large representative on LAUSD’s new Parent Advisory Committee, and his work as an educational researcher — he has a doctorate in Urban Schooling — has allowed him to become intimately familiar with needs of schools throughout the district.

“I’ve visited most schools at one time or another, from the more affluent, which are mainly in the valley and on the westside, to the poorer ones in the southeast,” he said. “But many of the schools face the same issues: facilities, instructional materials, teacher quality, leadership, school organization.”

When it comes to charter schools, Thomas takes an academic view. “There should be more transparency and data sharing between charters and traditional public schools,” he said. When asked if their expansion is problematic for the district, he is matter-of-fact: “They have a fiscal impact on the district and I support managing that impact. So when a new charter school opens, there is a reduction in ADA” — average daily attendance — “and we should be more rational about planning for that.”

Regarding UTLA’s negotiations for a new contract with the district, he said, “I would like them to have as much raise as we can afford to give them.”  That and reducing class sizes, he said, are the two most important factors in “keeping the teaching workforce happy, retained, and motivated to continue to excel.”

Thomas insists he is the only independent in the race, unlike Kayser and Rodriguez, both of whom he says would be beholden to the “outside interests” pumping money into their campaigns. Kayser has has been endorsed by the unions representing the teachers, service workers and administrators while Rodriguez is the latest darling of reform groups.

Thomas has managed to stay out of the fevered backlash against the charter school association for the flyer that accuses Kayser of taking policy positions that harm Latino students, a characterization that some have described as racist. While others, including the supposed beneficiary of the mailer, Rodriguez, denounced it publicly, Thomas remained silent, although he did tell LA School Report that the allegations against Kayser are “despicable.”

But ultimately, he said, the hoopla of the aftermath is “a distraction against the real of issues with Kayser’s leadership.”


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